26th Oct 2013Words by me, photos by everyone in the blog. As many of the events in my life seem to go, this was an unplanned, super lucky, sometimes stressful but very eventful week- an 8 day roadtrip from Bariloche, Argentina and back. Up the Argentinean side of the Andes and down the Chilean side with aplenty closed passes, long colouirs, touring volcanoes and getting lost in beautiful backwater farming villages, where learning Spanish on the fly was the only way to get directions out. [caption id="attachment_1042" align="alignnone" width="662"] Argentinean roads are not the best feature of the country so the 38 hour driving time estimate is massively understated[/caption] How did it start? We met 4 friendly Americans in Bariloche and they just happened to want to go to Portillo, Chile the same as us- where another friend of mine Andrew Rumph had recommended us to come visit him. Turned out they had already looked into renting a car and two more was not a crowd, so not long after we were departing in a mighty 7 seat Kangoo, with skis packed inside and outside the roof as taught to me by Austrian Kangoo master Fabian Lentsch, thanks buddy. It was a long overnight drive to Mendoza but my turn to drive came just in time to catch one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen, complete with a full moon and wild Argentinean countryside. [caption id="attachment_1043" align="alignnone" width="662"] 3 of our new American friends Harris, Dan and Max dealing well with the indoor skis[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1045" align="alignnone" width="662"] Thanks big sign[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1046" align="alignnone" width="662"] Earlier on there was a full moon in the shot too, phonetoe just couldn't do it justice, photo by me[/caption] As one makes the pilgrimage from the Los Pampas province of Argentina to that of Los Andes Mendoza is the gateway city between the plains and the mountains. An old and beautiful city of award winning architecture it has a large Chilean population due to its proximity to the border, meaning that our arrival on the 19th of September was high on festivities and low on vacancies- it was Chile’s national day. The hostel that we managed to find space for all 6 of us (in different rooms) was near to a city park, a park filled with music, dancing, flags and of course several large farms worth of ‘carne’. It seems the Chileans place meat at the bottom of the food pyramid as much as Argentineans, as in 5 plus a day, which may be why the local Argentines seemed fine with the celebrations that were the equivalent of a Canada day party in the USA. [caption id="attachment_1048" align="alignnone" width="662"] Tove stoking out on the Chilean national day celebrations complete with a meat street[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1049" align="alignnone" width="662"] Street art in Mendoza[/caption] The next day we planned to cross into Chile by one of the few passes through the Andes, bound for Portillo ski resort, which is pretty much a hotel with ski lifts located just on the Chilean side of the pass. But as we prepared to leave the hostel the friendly receptionist found out that the pass was closed due to heavy snowfall! Being mid September (which is Spring to all you Northern Hemisphere-ies) and only a week before the resort shut down for the season this was a shock in more ways than one- suddenly there was epic pow at our destination, but we couldn’t get to it. The options were few, it would’ve taken over 35 hours to get to Portillo by either of the other closest two passes, and so we drove up to the border town of Uspallata to line up with the stranded Chilean families, play tag in the gravel, cross our fingers and twiddle our thumbs. The news was bad the first morning- it was Saturday and they said the pass would be closed until Monday. Gutted and plan-less we returned to the hostel that we had arrived at late the night before to reconsider our options, or lack thereof. As we sat down for a mate (Argentinean caffeinated tea) one of the border workers came in to see his friend that worked there and told us that it would actually open Sunday morning. Stoking out that we hadn’t immediately begun driving for one of the other passes we made the most of our free day by going horse riding. Argentinean style there was no safety briefing- the local gaucho simply asked in Spanish if we had any experience, though whichever answer we gave was simply acknowledged with a curt nod and no further instructions. [caption id="attachment_1050" align="alignnone" width="662"] Looking towards the storm over Portillo pass from Uspallata[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1052" align="alignnone" width="662"] Tove and I saddling up with the local gaucho[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1053" align="alignnone" width="662"] Looking back across the plateau to the Argentinean side of the Andes[/caption] The next morning we up and at ‘em early, arriving in the first queue of cars (that grew to 6 lanes), waiting for the hooter from the road control workers to begin attacking the road to the pass in a fashion similar to the intro of the Flintstones. When the time came we were quick off the mark but eventually passed by many due to our seemingly uncommon lack of desire to drive on the wrong side of the road around blind corners. The border itself brought further challenges as one of our American friends had overstayed his visa in Argentina. He seemed pretty un-phased in my eyes since I’ve had a friend get a 10 year ban from the USA for the same thing and when they dropped the bomb that it was a 30,000 peso fine I thought that things were about to get serious. Turns out that 30,000 Chilean peso is only $70 NZD (€45), not the $7000 NZD that it would’ve been if we were talking Argentinean peso. Sprits instantly rose as we were through the last of the barriers separating us from Portillo and epic untouched powder, and it turned out that none of the other cars in the queue were on their way to the ski resort! [caption id="attachment_1054" align="alignnone" width="662"] Max enjoying the queue with a view from the back of the Kangoo[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1056" align="alignnone" width="662"] The crew standing in front of the face that we would later hike the colouir on the left side of. Dan, Davis, Harris, Tove, me and Max[/caption] As we had been waiting in the long single file for the border I had been eyeing the mountains around us in awe and wishing that we could ski them, they were huge and steep and I immediately understood how difficult it would be to keep this pass open in a storm. One epic looking face appeared to have avalanche debris at the bottom, but no evidence of a slide above it. As we drew closer though we realised that the ‘debris’ were ski tracks, it was Portillo! The lift had been difficult to see because it is a ‘slingshot’ instead of a chairlift, which is like a cross between a cable car and a T-bar. There are two bars hanging from the cables, each of which has 5 poma attached to it (shafts with button shaped ends to ‘sit’ on), and the poma bars and at opposite ends of the cable, meaning that as one goes up the other is coming down. These are almost apologetically placed in the heart of the intimidating Andes range as if in an attempt not to offend it, and since the majority of ski-able faces are at the bottom of potential avalanche paths it seems that this design is also to facilitate ease of transport if necessary, or at least less expensive replacement. There is a chairlift as well though and we gravitated to it immediately after arriving just in time for a half day ticket. There was an unskied chute directly under the chair that finished with a mandatory air, it was love at first run. I found out afterwards that it was a permanently closed area but the forgiveness that I didn’t have to beg was far easier than the permission that I didn’t ask. I met up with my American instructor friend Andrew Rumph and he showed us around to more epic spots, and took me shooting with his pro photog friend- who turned out to be the photographer for the USA ski team that were training there. We skied without a break until the lifts closed at 5pm, one of the best days of the season. [caption id="attachment_1055" align="alignnone" width="608"] The view from the hotel at Portillo and my local instructor buddy Andrew Rumph sending a cliff that I backflipped while shooting with his photographer friend, hopefully it will get run in a magazine or similar[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1120" align="alignnone" width="662"] An unfortunately overexposed GoPro framegrab of backflipping the cliff with the hotel in the background[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1068" align="alignnone" width="662"] Max having trouble with his first go at the 'slingshot' lift[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1119" align="alignnone" width="662"] Tove getting some airtime above the lake[/caption] We got a couple more shots with Andrew's friend Jonathan, who I found out afterwards is the photographer for the US ski racing team and the first guy to get a racing shot on the cover of Powder magazine! So I'm hoping to see them published somewhere in the future. Portillo is one of the most beautiful and scenic resorts I have even had the visited, and the grandeous hotel at the base made full use of the view with huge windows and an outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs. It was from these tubs that Andrew peeled a finger off his cold beer and pointed out ‘Super C’, a 1200 vertical metre colouir that was a slingshot ride and a ridge hike away. It barely ever saw the sun and the recent snowfall had loaded it with deep, well bonded snow. We had originally been planning to spend 3 days in Portillo, which the pass closure had reduced by one, and Super C seemed like the obvious option for our second and final day there, so the beers were cheers’d to it and the thighs given a nervous rub of steep&deep hiking anticipation. We had met one of Andrew’s friends Jake skiing the day before, who worked reception at the hotel, and he joined the team for the morning mission as the only member to have made the hike before. It was good that he did as we valued the extra pair of legs, it took about 4 hours of straight bookpacking to slog up the steep face of knee to thigh deep snow and we were all exhausted at the top. Tove had tweaked her knee in the heavier snow of the late afternoon the day before and made the tough call not to come. With impressive views of Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) and mild altitude nausea on my part we readied ourselves to drop in for one of the longest continuous pow runs of my life, past and future. It was amazing and steep and deep and it kept on going and going and going. There were hoots, hollers, hugs and blatant disregard for getting as much footage as it deserved, this was a time to ski for ourselves, runs like this don’t happen every season. I found out later that Chris Davenport had previously visited Portillo for 2 weeks and hiked Super C 9 times, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised. After we left Andrew and Jack used our bootpack to get up there twice more during closing week, and I’m glad to have been able to leave that behind for them in return for the local knowledge of it being there. Thanks again guys. [caption id="attachment_1069" align="alignnone" width="662"] The face that we hiked to drop over the back and get to Super C colouir[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1072" align="alignnone" width="662"] The long sweaty bootpack[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1070" align="alignnone" width="662"] Nearing the top of the face, we are the 4 dots in the middle of the photo[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1071" align="alignnone" width="662"] A view of Aconcagua, South America's highest mountain. It isn't a volcano but was long believed to be due to this lens cloud that often forms at its peak. Photo by Jack Linehan[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1073" align="alignnone" width="662"] Harris, Jake, Davis and myself at the top[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1076" align="alignnone" width="662"] View from the top[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1140" align="alignnone" width="662"] Time to drop in[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1139" align="alignnone" width="640"] Nearly every turn was like this, but most of the GoPro video was overexposed unfortunately.[/caption] My first gif animation- the even better type of faceshot. [caption id="attachment_1134" align="alignnone" width="609"] Davis wasn't sick of the pow even after 1000 vertical metres, photo by me[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1141" align="alignnone" width="662"] Myself, Davis and Harris stoked on the run, photo by Jake Linehan[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1142" align="alignnone" width="609"] White line on the left shows where we hiked, red line on the right shows where we skied, put together by Harris for his instagram, @Hampton23[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1145" align="alignnone" width="662"] The sun going down on our last evening in Portillo paradise[/caption] That evening we said our farewells and drove through the night to Pucon, to maximise the rest of the days that the Mighty Kangoo rental was available to us. Chile is much greener than Argentina and our journeys would take us into the thermal areas of hot springs, volcanoes and dirt roads to borders. Stay tuned for the next update!